Miami wordsmiths

By Vanessa Garcia

Not-quite-thirty, flirty, and thriving, the University of Miami and Florida International University’s creative writing Master of Fine Arts programs may be young but they are beginning to make literary headlines, sprouting successful, published writers that are giving Miami a new (believe it or not) bookish voice.

“After New York and Los Angeles, Miami is likely the most active book city in the US,” says Les Standiford, the current and founding director of FIU’s MFA program in creative writing.

For a closer look at how Miami and its writing programs are making their mark, several Miami-nurtured writers will be at the University of Miami on Wednesday, March 11 for an MFA Alumni reading in celebration of some of its success stories. Chantel Acevedo, Celia Lisset Alvarez, Terrence Cheng, and Michelle Richmond will be welcomed back to the place where they grew into wordsmiths.

“In Miami, everything grows,” said Richmond, a UM MFA graduate and author of New York Times bestseller, The Year of Fog, among other novels. Originally from Alabama, Richmond found that Miami watered her stories – “they came like crazy here. I felt the lushness of the place carry over into my writing,” she says.
“There are a lot of misperceptions about Miami,” said Alvarez, born and raised in Miami, and author of Shapeshifting. “Depending on what’s being sold, it’s a tourist paradise, a third-world country, a cosmopolitan capital, a crime-infested cesspool, or a retirement colony. It’s important for writers to come out of this city and give it a genuine voice.” Crissa Jean Chappell, author of Total Constant Order, winner of various YA book awards and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, agrees. Chappell, who also attended UM from her undergraduate years through her Post doctoral studies, says “Miami is a lot stranger than people think,” and also sees it as a duty to capture the place she is from in her own writing.

Richard Blanco, winner of the PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award, and FIU MFA graduate, claims that part of that “Miami strangeness” is its “Cubanidad,” as Blanco calls it. “As a teen it was tacky to be as Cuban as my parents, [but] when I started writing as an adult my Cubanidad or lack of it became the central concern/focus of my work.” Although Blanco was born in Spain, he considers himself “practically a Miami native.”

The March 11 UM Alum reading is open to the public and will be held at 4 p.m. at Pearson Residential College on the University of Miami campus.